Saturday, July 09, 2011

My Dress Disaster

May 24,  2011

My younger sister got married this weekend. This would be the absolute middle sister. I'm one of 5 sisters. Actually, in Borg terms, I'm 2 of 5. The one getting married is 3 of 5.

For me, the wedding was a rather crazy situation that included my failed attempt at sewing a dress, having to leave my husband and kids at home, and not actually sleeping much for an entire weekend. Plus fake eyelashes.

The wedding was a 1920's theme complete with a jazz band and held at an Austin club called The Speakeasy. It was beautiful, swanky, and impossible to shop for. 1920's dresses come in two flavors: tawdry Halloween flapper dresses, and impossible to find flapper inspired dresses. I tried to be smart about the process and found a reproduction 1920's dress pattern. I bought yards of satin and chiffon, and cut and sewed, and ended up with a monstrosity that would have looked ridiculous had I bothered to pack it. The fault is partly mine as a (not-so-great at womens' wear) dressmaker, and partly mine as a short woman with no hips to speak of.

After shortening the original pattern by several inches and measuring and fitting as I went, I still ended up with a dress that was too long and too big and so unflattering as to look (as I mentioned before) ridiculous on me. 1920's dresses were low-waist-ed and loose with virtually no structure in the tops (no darts, no princess seams, no anything, probably as a rebellion against the corsetry and tailoring of their mothers and grandmothers' styles). It is a style that naturally flatters the tall and willowy. I am neither. Had I followed my instincts and cut the top on the bias instead of on the straight grain (darned pattern directions), it might at least have hugged the curves I do have instead of hiding them in a column of fabric rather reminiscent of a Hawaiian muumuu. Were I about 4 inches taller with wider hips, it might still have been flattering.
The skirt looks very cool. It is a handkerchief hem that I made of layers of chiffon and satin and was a beast to assemble (two layers each consisting of two panels each about a yard-square sewn together to form a giant octagon). The fabric was heavy and the points of the handkerchief do end up on the bias which made the entire thing drape downward. All the way downward to the floor. My sister wanted us in dresses no longer than calf-length. And there was no shortening that hem once it was cut (let alone assembled). It was a bit of a geometry puzzle to cut in the first place.

I tried several options for salvaging my efforts, including pinning some darts and maybe adding a sash belt. But I got the majority of the dress put together on Thursday night at 11pm and had to be on a plane Saturday morning. The simple fixes weren't working and there was just no time for something drastic.

I packed a pair of purchased black cocktail dresses that I already owned and let my mom and sisters vote on which one would look the best. One of my other sisters had a different dress disaster (hers involving ripping her first dress) so there were two of us wearing thoroughly contemporary outfits. In the end, with period hairstyles, jewelry, and feather boas, we still looked great.

Maybe I'll re-work that long satin dress into something else. Cut the top off and add a waistband for a holiday skirt. Re-cut the yardage into a dress for my daughter. Or just wear it for Halloween. With the right hat, it might make a lovely witch costume ;)

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